PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Els ready to give full attention to PGA TOUR Champions
January 16, 2020
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- January 16, 2020
- Ernie Els will make his PGA TOUR Champions debut at Hualalai. (Getty Images)
The rookies who have made the most impact in recent years on PGA TOUR Champions have, for the most part, been the guys who still were actively competing on the PGA TOUR right up to and including the year they turned 50.
Players such as Jerry Kelly, Steve Stricker and David Toms spring to mind. Kelly made 15 of 23 cuts the year he turned 50 (2016), including a runner-up finish. Stricker turned 50 in early 2017, in the midst of making 11 cuts in 13 starts, including two top 10s. Toms turned 50 in January 2017; he made 12 of 19 cuts in 2016 with one top 10 and four top 25s.
Less than four years later and the three have combined to win 12 times on PGA TOUR Champions, including three majors.
Now along comes Ernie Els, who turned 50 in October and will make his debut this week at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, a course which the South African legend played for the first time on Monday during practice and said he loved it.
Els made nine of 18 cuts last year on the PGA TOUR and also captained a spirited International squad in the Presidents Cup, to which he devoted much of his time.
But he sounds ready to give PGA TOUR Champions his full attention.
“I'm excited,” Els said Monday. “I mean, you know obviously I grew up with these guys. We’ve spent a lot of time with these guys on this tour. It’s a ‘these are my guys’ kind of a thing. So I’m really happy to join them.
“It's a privilege, really, if you think about it. You’re playing on the regular tour for so long and then, of course, they called this Champions Tour for a reason because if you're a champion they reward you on this side. So it's really rewarding and it's a privilege to be here, and actually I hope I can be of some benefit.”
Els won 19 times on the PGA TOUR, including four majors. He’s seventh all time in European PGA TOUR wins with 28. “The Big Easy,” as he has become known as much for his easygoing manner as his long, fluid swing, also counts nearly 250,000 followers across social media. So he definitely will bring some attention to the PGA TOUR Champions, domestically and around the world.
He’s the first of what could be a very high-profile rookie class to tee it up. Jim Furyk turns 50 in May, and Phil Mickelson hits the mark in June. No one is sure if either will play immediately or at all on PGA TOUR Champions in 2020. But it’s a safe bet their friends already have been lobbying them to at least join for the senior majors.
Els says his game is in decent shape, buoyed by being around a lot of very good players at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. But while he knows his old pals will make him feel welcome, he also knows nothing will be given to him.
“The guys out here, they score very well so I’m gonna have to be on top of my game,” Els said. “But we'll take it as it comes. And if a golf course really suits me hopefully I'll be comfortable and I can score. But I just want to have fun, play with the guys and hopefully put some good numbers up.”
Els elaborated a bit on his probable schedule. After Hualalai he’ll be going to the Middle East and taking a holiday in February to his native South Africa. He doesn’t figure to rejoin PGA TOUR Champions until March, when he says he’ll “really start playing a lot more golf.”
Should Els win this week he would be the first player to win in his Champions Tour debut since Miguel Angel Jimenez won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic in April 2014.